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A Passion for Getting It Right

Essays and Appreciations in Honor of Michael J. Colacurcio’s 50 Years of Teaching

Edited By Carol M. Bensick

For 50 years Michael J. Colacurcio has been a leader in the criticism of early and antebellum American literature. In The Province of Piety, New Essays on The Scarlet Letter, Doctrine and Difference, and Godly Letters, as well as editions and often-reprinted reviews and essays, Dr. Colacurcio has continued to defend a rare vision of the political and intellectual depth of America’s serious fiction and the aesthetic power and charm of its religious poetry and prose. In light of many honors such as the Book of the Year Award from the Conference of Christianity and Literature and election in 2007 to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, UCLA raised him to the rank of Distinguished Professor. Yet for all his dedication to research, his students know him as an unforgettable teacher, who has continued to win several teaching awards at both Cornell and UCLA. The present volume aspires to celebrate Dr. Colacurcio’s 50 years of transformative teaching through an exciting bounty of original and classic essays by some of his most talented students and eminent colleagues from his very first years at Cornell up to and including his current students at UCLA.
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Puritan Riffs: The Jazz Aesthetic in Michael J. Colacurcio’s Pedagogy



When I first learned that Michael Colacurcio loved the music of the five-saxophone jazz group Supersax, the discovery made perfect sense. After all, his words in class unspooled like brilliant jazz solos, seemingly spontaneous yet perfectly crafted; his sentences darted, circled, and probed around mysteries of truth and beauty, driven by a uniquely personal rhythmic propulsion; and he spoke in a distinctive voice that employed the full range of tones, registers, and pitches. To listen to Professor Colacurcio was to hear all at once Lester Young’s unconventional phrasing, Ben Webster’s enveloping warmth, Charlie Parker’s rapid-fire inventiveness, Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s irreverent humor, and John Coltrane’s spiritual searching. He was a quintet unto himself.

The propulsive rhythm of Professor Colacurcio’s sentences remains with me, and within me, like a muscle-and-blood memory. I had the pleasure of taking two graduate courses from him at UCLA: in Winter 1988, English 226A: Readings in Earlier American Literature, and then in Spring 1988 a Melville seminar, English 254 (to which I returned in Winter 1990 for re-immersion in the short fiction segment). I then enjoyed the privilege of having him serve as a crucial member of my dissertation committee.

I have 121 pages of single-spaced lecture notes written on lined notebook paper in my neat, tiny script from English 226A. I have another quarter-ream from English 254—and these were both ten-week courses. Although I took notes in complete sentences, I failed to capture Professor Colacurcio’s...

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